Today's peacetime, all-volunteer Army is vastly different from the huge draftee Army of World War II. But the men in the ranks - especially the young ones - still bear a certain resemblance to Willy and Joe, the classic grunts" immortalized by cartoonist Bill Mauldin.
Mauldin's front-line characters and many of today's young recruits over here want only to go home. Life in the United States where the language is familiar and the dollar still buys something, has enormous appeal to many GIs in Germany.
But the view of the Army from the lowest ranks is different today from what it was six or seven years ago. Then a young soldier here more often than not lived in ancient barracks that had not been cared for in years. Crime, violence, racial tension and drugs were all around him.
Today, the Army seems less threatening but somehow a more lonely place, although there is no such thing as an "average young GI." The Army is much more a married institution today than it was even five years ago, so many young soldiers are not lonely over here. Black soldiers have different views of where they stand than whites, and the growing number of Hispanis-Americans in uniform add a third - and poorly understood element to a complex sociological brew.
In general, however, the dominant complaint of the typical soldier with perhaps three years under his belt, two of them in Europe, is that he wants to go home.
"Most people blame the Army for that, says Pvt. Lee Edwards of the 3rd Infantry Divison in Schweinfurt. "They come here right away, have never really seen stateside duty. You don't find many people who will reenlist after they've been here three or four years. They just have a bad attitude when they stay here that long."
"Money is a big part of it, young GIs say. Rightly or wrongly, many blame the Army for dollar weaknesses that basically are a U.S. government problem. The Army screwed me, says another Schweinfurt soldier.
He is a bachelor, a high school drop-out. He prefers to get out of the barracks as much as he can, have a girlfriend in town, live off-base for some privacy he can not find in the barracks. There are thousands of men like him in the Army, caught up in the swirl of international economics that has driven the dollar down and curbed their life styles. A PX system protects them in all their basic material needs however and there probably is not a room anywhere in the U.S. Army today without an expensive stereo set.
After the first 18 months, a private here says, "You just go through the same training again. It get repetitious though the training generally is good and we are in the field a lot. But is gets boring the second time around so even that doesn't help."
Young soldiers also often blame poor leadership among their immediate superiors for a sense of apathy that many cite as reasons they are not reenlisting.
The Army knows it always has had a problem training middle-ranking enlisted men for leadership and claims it is solving this.
A young Spec. 5 in Mannheim with a communications company said that when he came to Germany after working several years in the Pentagon basement the quality of his coworkers and immediate superiors shocked him. He says he is getting out "because it's so bad I don't even want to be associated with them. There are NCOs who are so illiterate that they can't even write up enlisted evaluation reports, so everybody gets the same thing, whether or not you show initiative."
Bobby Dawson, who is relisting, complains that there is "not enough respect for a job well done today." His friend, who is getting out, says, there are some good people in the Army who are trying to help, but it's pretty easy to get burned, too."
Pvt. Karl Fedder says, "I enlisted to see what is was like and as I see it now, It ain't worth it. There's too much pressure and I didn't understand that when I signed up." Sawson calls that a copout. But Pvt. Issac McRay says, "The reason a lot of guys are getting out is that there are a lot of things you can get away with on the outside that you can't in the Army any more."
The Army says it needs to relist 37 percent of its first-term resruits to meet manning goals. But last year and this it is falling short by a few percentage points.
The reasons the GIs are leaving however, are less emotional than in the past. Spec. 4 Milan Paich complains about too much drugs and alcohol in his unit, but his complaint is that they made it hard to get work done rather than that they are being forced on people.